Dell Technologies Preview, Picks & Analysis
REMEMBER Billy Horschel? You should. Back in 2014, the American won the BMW Championship and the next week he claimed the Tour Championship. From nowhere, he won the FedEx Cup and, with it, the $10m bonus that went with it.
He also sat out the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles because the Americans had finalised their team before the FedEx Cup Playoffs had been completed, so they flew off to Scotland and left behind the hottest man in golf. It was an extraordinary blunder and it led to a change in the US selection process. They now leave one place open until the final putt has been holed at the Tour Championship. In 2016 it opened the door for Ryan Moore, who came so close to beating Rory McIlroy in the Tour Championship and would not otherwise have been selected.
And with all of that in mind, we head to TPC Boston for the Dell Technologies Championship. After it is over, the field of 100 will be reduced to 80, before we finally get to the final 30 who will battle it out for the serious money.
The tournament was won in 2010 by Charley Hoffman, in 2011 by Webb Simpson, in 2012 and 2016 by Rory McIlroy, in 2013 by Henrik Stenson, in 2014 by Chris Kirk and in 2015 by Rickie Fowler.
Henrik Stenson's victory at the Wyndham Championship saw him leap up the standings and with a couple of good weeks he could now easily go on and win the whole shooting match with a couple of good weeks. Stenson's form at the Wyndham was reminiscent of the golf he produced to win The Open at Troon last year. He hit a whole succession of brilliant iron shots, but what really separated him from the rest of the field was his putting, which was sensational. Most golfers feed off confidence, and nobody more so than the big Swede. It would be a big surprise if he doesn't contend again before this run of tournaments is over.
Going into the Northern Trust, the top five places were occupied by Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. In truth, it is extremely hard to see beyond any of those four men. But Horschel has proved that just about anything is possible. Remarkably, he lost his card in 2012 after finishing 147th on the money list and had to return to Q-school for a fourth time. He successfully regained his playing privileges and had three successive top-10 finishes in 2013 before recording his first victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He made 23 cuts in a row and finished the year fourth in the FedEx Cup standings and 34th in the world rankings. His victories at the BMW and Tour Championship saw him rise to 14th in the rankings.
It has all been a bit stop-start since then, but rule out Horschel at your peril. He is a gutsy player and has shown some encouraging signs in recent weeks.
Of the five men who lead the standings, the two hottest players have been Matsuyama and Thomas, who battled it out for the US PGA Championship. Between them, they have won seven times this season.
The Japanese player is streaky, and right now he is on another of those amazing runs when he looks like winning every time he steps onto the first tee. Much has been made of the pause at the top of his backswing. It is clearly a trigger for him and something that is done quite consciously. It helps him to swing the golf club with a beautiful rhythm. It also helps him to generate an enormous amount of power. When we think of big hitters in world golf, we tend to mention the likes of Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. Matsuyama is easily capable of keeping up with both of those players.
But what makes him stand out when he is on one of his runs is his putting. From week to week, he looks little better than average, but then he seems to find something on the greens, and when he is in that mood, he misses nothing. Mind you, when you are striking the ball as close to the hole as he does, you are usually facing putts of no longer than 10 feet, so he is already at an advantage because he is so much closer to the target than his rivals.
All that is missing from Matsuyama's CV is a major. He has come close several times, and it is surely only a matter of time before he finally lands his first. In the meantime, pocketing a cool $10m would be no mean feat.
And then there is Thomas. It seems hard to believe that, going into the Northern Trust Open, he trailed Matsuyama at the top of the standings. Admittedly, the gap between the pair was tiny. After all, Thomas has won four tournaments this season, including his first major. The reason for the discrepancy comes down to the cuts that Thomas has missed. Not that he will be worried in the slightest.
Thomas is an astonishing golfer. He weighs less than 11 stones but hits the ball a mile because he swings the club so quickly – and it is that swing speed that means he can sometimes lose his game. And which is which he is always going to miss the occasional cut. But what a temperament he has, and what a talent he possesses.
When you add the current form of Johnson and the irrepressible Spieth, you can understand why so many of us are salivating at the prospect of the next couple of weeks. Spieth is probably the man to beat to the grand prize, but you really wouldn't bet your life savings on it, would you?
He may not win this week, but he is my pick to win the FedEx Cup.
Hideki Matsuyama. Looking simply awesome again
Daniel Berger. Ready for a BIG breakthrough
Rickie Fowler. Come on Rickie, show us what you're made of
Hideki Matsuyama. Ready for fourth win
Daniel Berger. Will enjoy this course
Rickie Fowler. So close, so often
Dustin Johnson. The big guy is back!
Justin Thomas. Is there a better player anywhere right now?
Jordan Spieth. Fully recovered from his Open hangover
Matt Kuchar. The top-10 machine
Henrik Stenson. Back in the frame, and means business
Paul Casey. Does he remember how to win?
Rory McIlroy. Ready for the season to end, but...
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